IN a ruling on Thursday, the Mingora bench of the Peshawar High Court held that the Prime Minister’s Performance Delivery Unit and the Pakistan Citizen Portal cannot take action on a complaint regarding provincial departments. Such action, it said in its judgement, violated provincial autonomy as enshrined in the Constitution. The court’s verdict was in response to a petition filed by government employees, who drew the attention of the two-member bench towards the harassment they had faced at the hands of the police on a frivolous charge of possessing chemical and biological weapons. The court held that “the impugned proceedings initiated and conducted on the authority of the Pakistan Citizen Portal, which includes the entertaining of the complaint and referring the same to the Swat DPO for taking necessary action, are unconstitutional for being beyond the executive authority of the federation, illegal, without lawful authority and resultantly null and void”. The bench, however, rejected the petitioners’ plea that criminal proceedings be started against the complainants.

Launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Oct 28, 2018, under the umbrella of PMDU, the PCP was designed to provide a platform to citizens to communicate directly with all government entities and to have their issues resolved by the relevant authorities. The creation of the PCP was an acknowledgement at the highest level of a broken system with few checks and balances and little oversight, which had failed to respond to citizens’ complaints. There can be no two opinions about the need for such digital platforms; it is necessary to provide quick and easy access to citizens to forums where their issues can be resolved. But the honourable bench was right in pointing out that the federation has no business dealing directly with departments that fall within the purview of the provinces. For their part, the federating units cannot distance themselves from their responsibility of providing such a mechanism to their citizens. As things stand, KP is perhaps the only province where a Performance Management & Reform Unit has been operating since January 2016. It is time all provinces joined hands to establish a well-integrated federal-provincial digital platform — with a proper oversight mechanism and performance benchmarks — to address citizens’ complaints. It is equally important for the PCP, established under Schedule-II of the Rules of Business, 1973, under the Cabinet Division, to institute immediate remedial measures to shield citizens and government officials from frivolous complaints.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2021

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